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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

WikiLeaks + press freedom « Previous | |Next »
December 11, 2010

We learn from WikiLeaks that the upbeat account of Rudd and Gillard about the Afghanistan war they constructed for the Australian public stands in stark contrast to their pessimistic private account of it going badly.

So we have a credibility gap that is deepened by the real reason for Australia's involvement in the war is to uphold the alliance with the US, and not to deny Al Qaeda a safe haven. The corporate media has gone along with the deceptions. They are a part of the political establishment that it is their duty to report.


It's a credibility gap based on spin about progress continually being made and Australia staying for ten years if need be to get the job done. Gillard, it seems, goes out of her way to assist the US. The Labor Right's modus operandi is to ingratiate itself with the Americans. Hence all the obedience training to ensure close fealty to those with geo-political power.

WikiLeaks is a challenge to the current power structure in liberal democracies. It is highlighting how this structure has been hollowed out through showing how networked power works.

This can be seen in their response to the WikiLeaks---impress the Americans by saying what they want to hear Gillard accusing Assange of acting illegally; McClelland asserting that obtaining classified information without authority is an offence under Australian law. No Australian laws have been broken, and the leaks come from an American database.

The inference is that the Gillard Government has little time for the freedom of the press--ie., those journalists who leak classified documents are criminals who should be jailed. The authoritarian undercurrent that runs through the ALP right surfaces; an undercurrent that situates the Gillard Government in opposition to its own left-wing constituency.

Andrew Wilkie, the Tasmanian Independent MP, nailed it when he said that Gillard has shown contempt for the rule of law, trashed the principle of free speech, and failed to stand up for Australian sovereignty by defaulting to the interests of the US ahead of those of an Australian citizen.

The name of the game is to please the Americans. Mark Latham had a phrase for this kind of behaviour: "a conga line of suckholes". The WikiLeaks cables remind us of the extraordinary demands that American officials now make of U.S. allies and those allies accommodate American demands out of self-interest,

Glenn Beck from Fox News has his take on WikiLeaks:

The reality is that WikiLeaks is as only as effective as its media partners: they screen the cables, identify narrative threads, redact the names, and embarrass the parties involved.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:32 AM | | Comments (34)


It will be interesting to watch this Leaks saga play out in blogs and in the minds of blog commenters. It will taint the view of what a good government is in their minds and even question whether they voted the right way in their last elections or if there is even a right way. Undoubtably it has the potential to change governments and as usual I find that amusing.
Truth.....the final frontier....beam me up Scotty

You know, I used to ALWAYS smile and shake my head whenever I heard one of THOSE theories... the ones about CIA involvement in the demise of the Whitlam government. I ALWAYS thought these stories were far-fetched.

These days, I'm not so sure.

It looks as if Washington is seeking to prosecute Assange under the 1917 act, which was used unsuccessfully to try to gag the New York Times when it published the Pentagon Papers in the 1970s.

There 's double standards at work here. Assange is being pilloried for doing wholesale what establishment journalists do on a retail basis all the time.

Much more disturbing than the "authoritarian undercurrent" that runs through BOTH major parties... is the willingness of the Australian people to succumb to it.

Seems to me that we have become a nation of timid, stale, self-righteous, purse-lipped prudes. We just can't wait to tsk-tsk at the latest manufactured outrage. We can wait to get behind anyone in authority who points to a transgression (real or imagined), we can't wait to cheer anyone who says "there ought to be a law"... just as long as these things do not impact on OUR lifestyles or OUR beliefs!

Good lord!!! Whatever happened to the easy-going Aussie? Whatever happened to our healthy skepticism and mistrust of power? Whatever happened to our "live and let live" ethos? Whatever happened to our knock-about, rebellious spirit?

Did these things ever REALLY exist or have they been co-opted by the system that controls us?

Assange's political strategy is goad the United States into overreacting, expose the U.S. government as an imperial authoritarian power, and then watch the hegemon twist itself in knots from within.

Assange certainly has goaded the US. It is overreacting.

I dunno about yous but the funny part of this cartoon is that Leunig jumped on the bandwagon too. Destination Wikiville. What a marvelously evil humorist he is to demonstrate how the media will be jumping over themselves to show that they too are the keepers of the most sacred "Scroll of Truth"

To be fair... it's not only the US that's overreacting!

So THAT'S Glenn Beck?!
In withdrawals for a lack of Rowson, but a bit of Beck is the paliative: more, more, more..
Shouldn't laugh. Not that long since I watched the George Clooney take on Ed Murrow and Joe McCarthy, the delusional nutter from the fifties who made a career in politics on nothing more substantial than the red smear.

"...the real reason for Australia's involvement in the war is to uphold the alliance with the US, and not to deny Al Qaeda a safe haven".

What is an ally? What is the difference between an ally and a feared hegemon? Why exactly do Australian (and Brit. and...etc.) politicians kowtow to American politicians? What would the US do to us if they decided to punish us? Would they drone-bomb Sydney? Or would they just assassinate some of the misbehaving locals?

These and related questions should now be the topic of conversation all over Australia - and other places.

"Would they drone-bomb Sydney? Or would they just assassinate some of the misbehaving locals?"

Well... Gordon... do you reckon our current pack of political grubs would give a fu@king rats-arse if a few "deserving" Aussie trouble-makers got zapped? Not bloody likely!!!

Nah mate. What keeps the Canberra scum in line is the fear that they might get bumped out of a job. You know... dumped for someone who is more ... ah... er... flexible.

It's not like the yanks don't have "form" when it comes to constructing pliable governments around the world.

Rebecca MacKinnon in WikiLeaks, Amazon and the new threat to internet speech says that:

What is troubling and dangerous is that in the internet age, public discourse increasingly depends on digital spaces created, owned and operated by private companies. The result is that one politician has more power than ever to shut down controversial speech unilaterally with one phone call. ....Amazon's dumping of WikiLeaks at one senator's request brings into stark relief one of the core problems Americans have grappled with since before our country even existed: Where is the right balance between security, on one hand, and civil liberties, on the other?

She says that a substantial if not critical amount of our political discourse has moved into the digital realm. This realm is largely made up of virtual spaces that are created, owned and operated by the private sector.

While Amazon was within its legal rights, the company has nonetheless sent a clear signal to its users: If you engage in controversial speech that some individual members of the U.S. government don't like -- even if there is a strong case to be made that your speech is constitutionally protected -- Amazon is going to dump you at the first sign of trouble.

In WikiLeaks in the Moral Void at the blog of the New Review of Books Christian Caryl says:

The WikiLeaks revelation that the State Department urged its employees to collect biometric data on foreign diplomats serving at the United Nations, while chilling, confirms what we already knew: that the modern-day national security state has at its disposal information technologies and resources that enable it to map our lives with a precision and power that will be extremely difficult to constrain by the rule of law.

He grants that journalists should certainly strive to prevent abuses of the culture of secrecy. And, of course, the United States still offers plenty of room for precisely that by allowing for the possibility of political competition and public accountability—including disclosure of secret documents through the Freedom of Information Act.

He asks:

What, precisely, are the criteria by which WikiLeaks is deciding to release the cables it opts to publish? How are WikiLeaks and its print media partners editing them? According to a vetting process described by The Guardian and The New York Times, they have been deleting the names of some of the people mentioned in the cables—but not others. Why, precisely?

Caryl loses the plot entirely when he suggests that WikiLeaks would release people's personal banking information--hence the idea of the moral void.

The moral void--- "an amoral, technocratic void" exists in the secrecy and actions of the national security state not WikiLeaks--eg., renditions, torture, surveillance etc

So.... I take it that Christian Caryl trusts politicians and other authority figures to always do the "moral" thing? That's interesting...

If Mars08 is right, and Australian (and other) politicians can be removed at will by US conspiracy, then he has certainly explained the "conga-line of suckholes" that Latham complained about.

But Mars08's explanation implies that complaints like Wilkie's are beside the point; fulminations and condemnations alone won't change the "suckhole" behaviour. How, then, can we protect ourselves against foreign manipulations of our politicians?

Scanning the crowd at the protest in Brisvegas yesterday it seemed to me that it was a generic crowd that turns up to all protests. Apart from a few scattered intelligent folk it was the same old students,unshaven/unwashed, hairy armpit females and those that wish to blame someone.
I always try to spot the backs of signs that have a message on about the previous protest.

Okay Les.... so you're saying to spotted (mostly) people who try to stay informed, are passionate, are concerned, have a conscience and have the time to get out on the streets.

As opposed to... what?

BTW... being unshaven isn't exactly a rare thing these days.

Yes they looked like they would have lots of time to keep informed.

...and having plenty of spare time isn't exactly a rare thing these days.

But that's not really what you're getting at, is it?

Caryl seems oblivious to the deeply flawed principle that underpins his whole argument, namely, that because the executive government labels something 'confidential', there is a positive obligation on anyone who publishes it to justify their actions. Breaking the unilateral imposition of confidentiality is 'mischief' by definition, and it will change the way governments conduct their affairs which apparently is a self-evident Bad Thing.

This absolute privileging of the state over the citizenry illustrates how comprehensively conservatives have internalised the concept of the authoritarian state. For all the bluster about individual freedom and smaller government, it's obvious they want a strong central authority that runs the place without any effective oversight by the people.

Some of his arguments are just plain weird. I never thought I'd read a professional journalist singing the praises of FoI laws, which in most countries are a joke. And he moves seamlessly from evidence-free assertions that some [unidentified] public servants have had their careers 'ruined' in unspecified fashion to 'One is justified in asking: Will deaths occur?' As many others have already pointed out, deaths are already occurring on a daily basis as a direct result of US global imperialism, but the conservatives have always been strangely indifferent to those kinds of casualties.

Caryl insists that WikiLeaks explain why they are doing this: what is their agenda? He seems incapable of accepting the notion that they don't have an agenda apart from making information available to people who are affected by it. And in the course of his argument he demonstrates an incapacity for historical reflection; no matter how awesome the powers of contemporary IT, we continue to have far more personal privacy than was the case for human beings for most of recorded history. It is only the growth of the modern large, bureaucratic organisation that has allowed secrecy to flourish. Prior to that, people were under almost constant direct observation by friends, family and associates (a situation which continues to the present day in many parts of the world).

The onus is on the state to justify why some documents need to be kept secret, not on the public to justify publishing them if they become available. Why should the Australian PM be allowed to feed Australians a line about success in Afghanistan while privately telling the Americans he feared the whole exercise was headed for a bad ending? "Because that's the way our governments work" seems to be the weak answer. It's not good enough.

Beautifully said Ken.

But do you sometimes wonder what is BEHIND that deep authoritarian fetish? Oh... and it's clearly not a "conservatives only" thing.

I think a large part of it comes from the "born to rule mentality". Th idea that most voters don't want to know and couldn't handle it if they did. Leo Strauss would have loved this.

Today we are seeing those in power inventing noble lies and pious frauds to keep the people in the stupor for which they are supremely fit. Why? Because, the people are better encased in an illusion than to “wallow” in the “sordid” truth. Only the superior few should shoulder the burden of truth and in so doing, protect humanity from the nasty side of life.

So the ruling elite (from all corners of the swamp) are doing us a favour! We, in return, should just let them get on with it... and dutifully cringe whenever the tell us the horror stories.

Is it just me, or are there parallels between the political circus and the financial sector? There too, those in power created an imaginary world. Their delusions created the illusion that they could halt reality. The money would just keep growing forever! And the elite would benefit FAR MORE than anyone else.

Nobody ever bothered to tell the battlers, lest they question the schemes and withdraw their support. The illusion would be shattered.

As it turns out, there are some tides which CANNOT be held back.

And that's when the hoi polloi feel the pain.

Oh well... let's put that down to "collateral damage"... slap on some new paint... and carry on regardless!!!! Stay the course chaps!

If the owners of Wikileaks have broken international laws they should be allowed to go through a just and fair legal process. But no such charges have been brought thus far.

I am not criticising your comment.
Fairness plays a part from other aspects too. Is it fair to make public private conversations even if there is a greater good and who decides the fairness of the greater good.

The cable dump indicates that members of the Australia political establishment have engaged in, at the very least, highly undemocratic practice. With clarity the cables confirm that unelected officials, whose faces and names are unknown to the Australian public, are shaping foreign policy and international relations behind closed doors. Not only this, but these same officials expect and demand the privilege of secrecy in order to do so.

What they want is greater secrecy and even less transparency in the future.

the problem is that the politicians and opinion formers of an authoritarian bent are warning of the dreadful damage done by the WikiLeaks dump of diplomatic cables, and in the very next breath dismissing the content as frivolous tittle-tattle.

They cannot have it both ways if they want to persuade us that their edited account of the way things are is for our own good.

Why should we accept happy ignorance?

"Why should we accept happy ignorance?"

I suspect it's because we mere mortal can't handle the truth. Best let the elite do the thinking for us!

Les asks:
" Is it fair to make public private conversations even if there is a greater good and who decides the fairness of the greater good."

I've seen nothing in these leaks that are anymore than embarrassing. They have nothing to do with national security nor do they appear to have caused any harm Those who claim they do, have provided no evidence to back their claim.

So why restrict the public's right to know that the war in Afghanistan is going badly, very badly?

I guess that it is human nature to accept more easily things that we share an opinion of and look less closely at the cost of a persons privacy especially when public servants are concerned. eg I beleive the war is going bad so anything that shows that is fair regardless.
I agree that all your comments are valid

the intelligence community itself acknowledges that something that causes embarrassment and discomfort to a particular administration or agency does not necessarily damage national security.

Scott Stewart at Stratfor points out that there are levels or classifications of secrecy in the US government. He says:

This culture tends to create so much classified material that stays classified for so long that it becomes very difficult for government employees and security managers to determine what is really sensitive and what truly needs to be protected. There is certainly a lot of very sensitive information that needs to be carefully guarded, but not everything is a secret. This culture also tends to reinforce the belief among government employees that knowledge is power and that one can become powerful by having access to information and denying that access to others. And this belief can often contribute to the bureaucratic jealously that results in the failure to share intelligence — a practice that was criticized so heavily in the 9/11 Commission Report.

The WkiLeaks indicate the low level information are in large part the result of a classified information system overloaded with vast quantities of information that simply does not need to be protected at the secret level. And, ironically, overloading the system in such a way actually weakens the information-protection process by making it difficult to determine which information truly needs to be protected.

Yes you have decided that embarrassment and discomfort is fair when there is a greater good. You are entitled to draw that line in the sand when you are a bystander. You may have a differing opinion if you were involved.
On another point. Were the leaks in regard to the Catholic church fair? Could imformation be leaked in a way that it would garner public support for the leaking process. If it was could that be regarded as manipulation and would that be fair.

The US government has seven publicised levels of security classification, the lowest being "confidential" and the second lowest -- which is the that of the published Wikileaks items -- being "secret". Relatively speaking, Wikileaks revelations are at the lower end of the security classification.

You miss Annon's key point--not everything in the US classification system is a secret that needs to be protected in the name of national security.

Yes fair point but I don't beleive I have mentioned national security.
If you go back to where I came in at Heathers comment. She asks that the wikileaks people be treated fairly and justly in the legal system.
Yes that is my point too but it has 2 sides.

Lets just say that a person working for an I.P goes into a persons email account and reads that persons emails. Then picks out a few that discredit that persons intelligence,sexual practices, makes that person look like a control freak or traitor or any other naughty person and then pass it onto others that make this knowledge public would it be fair and reasonable that the person demeened should be able to seek retribution in the courts even if the accounts had some basis for truth.
That is my point. That a lot of these leaks will slander individuals and the process of making America wrong or evil or making a war wrong does not negate this.

Dr Simon Longstaff, the Executive Director of St James Ethics Centre, says:

If the critics of Wikileaks are to be credible, then they need to explain why it is justifiable for nations to use others’ information (often gathered illegally in the ‘target’ country through illicit, covert intelligence operations) – and to do so for narrow national interests – while it is unjustifiable for Wikileaks to use the same kind of information in a relatively disinterested fashion by making it available to all.

it is a fair point.

your argument by analogy fails. Wikileaks didn't steal the documents. They published the documents that were given to them in association with selected media organizations. So they are equivalent to someone leaking to Laurie Oaks who then publishes the leak in a story.

From what we know it was an American soldier working in the military who leaked the documents. He trusted WikiLeaks to publish them rather than the old press.

So.... we have a defenceless minority (bureaucrats and politicians) being persecuted even though they have committed no crime. They are being hounded based (almost exclusively) on their culture/lifestyle. But wait... we also have some brave individuals who are going out of their way to make excuses and defend the poor victims. Ahh... political correctness.. is there anything it can't solve????